Thighbone (Femur) Fracture

What is a thighbone fracture?

A thighbone fracture is a break or crack in the bone of your upper leg. This bone is called the femur and it extends from the hip to the knee.

What is the cause?

Thighbone fractures are usually caused by events that involve a lot of force. The thighbone is a very large bone, so it takes a lot of force to break it. Examples of accidents that might break the thighbone include falling from a height or having a high-speed fall or collision, like when you are skiing or snowmobiling.

What are the symptoms?

When the leg is broken, you may hear a snapping or popping sound. Symptoms may include:

  • pain, swelling, bruising, or tenderness
  • trouble moving the leg or not being able to walk
  • a change in the shape of the leg
  • the feeling that the bone in your thigh is moving

When you break your thighbone, you may lose a lot of blood in the thigh. You may feel numbness, coldness, or tingling in your foot or lower leg if the blood supply to these areas is affected.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how the injury happened. Your provider will examine you. You will have X-rays of the leg. Because of the great force needed to break a thighbone, your provider will check to be sure there are no injuries to other parts of your body, like the pelvis, knee, or lower leg.

How is it treated?

Most thighbone fractures need to be repaired with surgery. Your leg may be put into traction in the hospital before you have surgery. This is done by putting your leg into a special splint that straightens the bones by pulling them apart. During surgery your healthcare provider may use screws, plates, or rods to keep the bones in the proper place.

Casts are rarely used for thighbone fractures in healthy adults.

You will start physical therapy soon after surgery to strengthen your muscles and loosen up your joints. (Muscles are usually injured in a thighbone fracture, and your hip and knee often get stiff from the injury and surgery.)

Complete recovery may take many months, depending on how bad the fracture was and the extent of any other injuries. The break should heal in about 4 months.

In some cases you may have surgery to remove the plates, screws, or rods sometime after your leg has fully healed.

How can I help take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. In addition:

  • To keep swelling down and help relieve pain, your healthcare provider may tell you to:
    • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
    • Keep the injured leg up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
    • Take pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Use crutches or a cane as directed by your healthcare provider. Your provider will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg, if any.

While your leg is healing and not being used much, your joints may get stiff and your muscles get weaker. Your healthcare provider or physical therapist may recommend exercises to help your legs get stronger and more flexible. Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises.

Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests. Call your healthcare provider right away if:

  • You have more pain, redness, warmth, or swelling.
  • You have a fever higher than 101.5°F (38.6°C).
  • You have a loss of feeling in the injured area.
  • The injured area looks pale or blue or feels cold.

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your leg recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

The following list gives some general requirements that you might be expected to meet to return safely to your normal activities:

  • You have full range of motion in the injured leg compared to the uninjured leg.
  • You have full strength of the injured leg compared to the uninjured leg.
  • You can walk straight ahead without pain or limping.

How can I prevent a thighbone fracture?

Most thighbone fractures are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent. Use good judgment in sports like skiing, rock climbing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. It’s also important to keep your bones strong with a healthy diet and enough calcium.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.